Eight Years Later, Boynton Meadows Is Still Not Done
[Web Edit Note: Two related articles are attached to this article: 1. A summary of Bob France's explanation to the Planning Board of why the Boynton Meadows project lost money; and 2. The Planning Board's letter to him.]
by Russell Harris
Almost eight years after the Planning Board issued a special permit for the Boynton Meadows mixed-use housing project at 134 Main Street, after the town endured a $400,000 investment loss on the project, and even after all the units had been sold, parts of the project landscaping, stormwater, and road infrastructure are still not complete.
Prompted by resident complaints, the Planning Board sent a letter to project developer Bob France asking him to appear before the Board to provide a status update on the unfinished items. [Mr. France is the project principal for Mount Laurel Development LLC, the legal structure created to develop the Main Street property commonly called Boynton Meadows.]
The letter mentions numerous deficiencies including unfinished site work, incomplete landscaping, erosion, and the poor condition of the common driveway known as Blacksmith Row. The letter adds, “The homeowners are understandably frustrated by the prevailing substandard conditions throughout the development.” [The full text of the letter is printed at the end of this article.]
At the June 20 meeting, Mr. France was asked if there was a plan to fix the items mentioned in the letter. He said, “My response is that there is no plan.” He continued, “Currently the development has lost $2.4 million. My current investment is about $1.35 million. My objective is to get the property paved and satisfy the current residents to the best of my ability. It’ll be at my additional personal investment, but I don’t have the funds at the moment.”
He said he hopes to have enough money to pave the driveway/access road and install streetlights, “before Thanksgiving, before the snow flies.” Seeking clarification, Planning Board member Russ Burke, asked France whether he was seeking Planning Board reprieve until Thanksgiving. Mr. France replied, ‘Correct.’ Burke also asked whether he was also asking for a reprieve on some of the 16 items on the Planning Board’s deficiency list. France again replied in the affirmative.
Reviewing the deficiency items in the Planning Board letter in a vague, off-handed manner, France disagreed with some of the items listed. He said that, to his knowledge, the retaining walls were stable. He said he believed the ‘stormwater management system’ was complete. Additionally, he said the tactile pads for the ADA ramps are installed, saying, ‘I’m not sure what that’s about; they exist.’
Asked whether Mt. Laurel Development LLC was in bankruptcy, France replied that it was still solvent, propped up by his personal funds. Planning Board member Tim Svarczkopf said it was important to acknowledge that the town also lost money, saying, “I haven’t heard that tonight.” Svarczkopf added that it was important to acknowledge the town’s $400,000 loss. Developer France replied, ‘That’s correct.” He added that there were three other individual investors who also lost a significant amount of money. Svarczkopf added, “There’s no way to substantiate your loss. I’m not calling you a liar. I’m just saying that it’s unsubstantiated.”
Defending France, Planning Board member Burke jumped in saying, “I think it’s a busted project…I’ll take Mr. France at his word in terms of the financials. I think we [the Planning Board] have to be independent of the fact of the town’s investment involvement.”
Svarczkopf replied that France had brought up the subject of his personal financial loss and said it was important to acknowledge other entities’ losses. Besides outside investors, there was the town’s loss of funds and the homeowners’ trial of living for years without an inadequately paved road, without proper lighting and with serious drainage issues. He said the Planning Board should consider all stakeholders.
Resident John Dow, speaking for some Boynton Meadows residents, said they were very concerned about the deteriorating condition of the road pavement. He added that they all believe that part of the problem with the drainage is that the topcoat of pavement would be properly angled and graded thus solving a lot of the drainage problems.
Seeming to acknowledge the likelihood that France along with Mt. Laurel LLC would be unable to complete all the items on the deficiency list, the residents implied that if France completed the paving and installed streetlights, they would finish the balance of the items.
Planning Board member Burke said that the Boynton Meadows homeowners had indicated that they realized they might, ultimately, be responsible for finishing some parts of the project. He said, “I don’t think it is the ideal situation. I’m looking at a way to try to balance how we can get this resolved.” He added, “At the end of the day the goal is to complete the project for the people who bought there in good faith intending to have a finished project and now through no fault of their own find themselves with a project that is not near the finish line yet.”
Lack of Leverage
Expressing frustration with the Board’s lack of ability to guarantee completion of the project, Burke said, ‘This has been a learning lesson for us as a board. How should we proceed with future special permits of this type?” He said that one way to proceed would be to state that no occupancy or final sign offs would be granted until the project is complete, unless the applicant provides some form of assurance that it will be done. In effect, this would require a performance bond to guarantee project completion.
Mr. France must appear before both the Conservation Commission and the Stormwater Committee to respond to compliance issues with both those boards. After meeting with those boards and after the remaining non-compliance issues are resolved, he will meet again with the Planning Board in mid-August to determine who is capable and responsible for finishing the Boynton Meadows project
Bob France on Why Boynton Meadows Lost Money
by Russell Harris
During the Planning Board review of compliance deficiencies at Boynton Meadows, member Gus Widmayer asked Bob France whether he could identify any single factor that went especially off track, creating financial losses on the project.
France replied that there were multiple issues. The first major shock was the cost of restoring the historic building at 134 Main Street, former home of Kilbridge’s Antique dealers. France said the building’s renovation cost was estimated to be about $500,000, but soon realized the building was not structurally sound and would cost much, much more to renovate. Effectively, it had to be completely rebuilt, not renovated.
He said the historic structure had to be rebuilt right back to the siding. “We had the siding propped in the air and we sistered every stud, and put in all new floor framing on both the ground floor and second floor,” he said.
Effectively, they built a new structure around the siding, because retaining the siding was required due to the building’s historic designation. He said that in reality, it is a new building with the exception of the siding. Even the foundation had to be rebuilt in place, he explained. When they started foundation work, it crumbled ‘underneath our shovels,’ he said, adding that they ended up rebuilding the foundation underpinning the entire building.
But, even with the high cost of renovation, France said he felt they could overcome the additional costs with sales of newly built units. But he said, the project took another ‘bad financial swing’ because of their bank financing agreement. The bank agreement allowed financing to build only two units at a time, slowing sales momentum. He said real estate brokers rely on commissions for their livelihood and want to be able make a sale in 30 days. However, in the case of the Boynton Meadows project, the brokers had to rely on pre-sales on not-yet-built units which ‘doesn't motivate most real estate brokers.’ He added that the arrangement dramatically slowed sales momentum.
In a reflective mood, he asked hypothetically, “Would I do things differently? Yes. I would like to have that $1.3 million in my pocket right now, but it's invested in the project.” He added, “It was an interesting project. I'm still very proud of it.”
Planning Board Letter to Robert France Re: Deficiencies at Boynton Meadows
TOWN OF GROTON
Office of the PLANNING BOARD
Mount Laurel Development, LLC
P.O. Box 1444
1000 Mount Laurel Circle, Suite 4
Shirley, MA 01464
173 Main Street
Groton, Massachusetts 01450
Tel: (978) 448-1105
Fax: (978) 448-1113
May 9, 2019
Re: Boynton Meadows, 134 Main Street, Groton
Dear Mr. France,
Please be advised that the Planning Board has received numerous complaints from homeowners in Boynton Meadows, 134 Main Street and Blacksmith Row, Groton, regarding incomplete site work and landscaping, erosion, and the poor condition of Blacksmith Row. The homeowners are understandably frustrated by the prevailing substandard conditions throughout the development.
As you know, the Planning Board issued Special Permit #2011-15 on December 21, 2011. Subsequent modifications to the Special Permit were granted on June 14,2013 (#2013-01) and on May 9, 2014 (#2014-02).
The Planning Board hereby requests that you provide a status report and timetable for completion of the remaining site work and landscaping. Your report should address the status of the following items, at a minimum:
1. Final paving of Blacksmith Row
2. Installation of streetlights
3. Installation of the fence behind Building A
4. Stability of retaining walls behind Building C
5. Cobblestones (apron treatment) around the perimeter of constructed wetland
6. Brick paver crosswalks
7. ADA access ramps/tactile pads
8. Signage for walking path/viewing area
9. "No Parking" signs on Main Street, on both sides of Blacksmith Row
10. Completion of the storm water management system
11. Completion of the constructed storm water wetland including specified plantings
12. Completion of the bio-retention area including required plantings
13. Maintenance reports on the five CuI Tec infiltration systems as required in the "Long
Term Pollution Prevention & Stormwater System Operation and Maintenance Plan"
14. Final landscaping as shown on the approved landscaping plans
15. Severe erosion at the rear of Unit C between 24 Blacksmith Row and 27 Blacksmith Row
16. Invasive species in the cul-de-sac where the constructed stormwater wetland is located
Please provide your report and timetable to the Planning Board by June 10, 2019.
Also, please note the Planning Board is aware of outstanding issues at Boynton Meadows related to the Stormwater Management Permit and the Order of Conditions issued by the Earth Removal Stormwater Advisory Committee ("Stormwater Committee") and the Conservation Commission, respectively.
Please be advised that until the Planning Board is satisfied with completion of the items enumerated herein, and in addition the satisfaction of requirements of both the Stormwater Committee and Conservation Commission, the Town shall reserve its rights to withhold approvals as to applications for permits or issuances of Occupancy Permits relative to aspects of the Boynton Meadows project, and more specifically, Mount Laurel Development LLC's commercial unit still pending completion located in the basement of 134 Main Street.
Your prompt attention to all of the outstanding permit obligations at Boynton Meadows is anticipated.
Land Use Director/Town Planner